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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Where appropriate.

Lord Kingsland: Where appropriate. But we discovered that "where appropriate" is defined in a narrow and specific way.

If it is in the interests of consumers that proper competition be promoted, how can it be in their interests that the standard for disclosure should be such as to, on occasion, seriously undermine the process of competition? If it is to be just the consumer council that determines whether the disclosure of information is serious or prejudicial--in other words, if it is to be a purely subjective judgment--

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. If the council wishes to publish something which has a serious and prejudicial effect on any person or persons, it cannot do so. It can ask the authority to publish it.

Lord Kingsland: I apologise if I did not express myself as clearly as I ought to have done. I am not suggesting that it can do that without going to the authority. But I am suggesting that it is its judgment alone. The publication of confidential information in those circumstances can seriously damage a competitor in the market and, therefore, the process of competition. I put it to the Minister, therefore, that the interests of the consumer are intimately linked with successful competition, and that those can be undermined by the wrongful disclosure of information.

I shall read carefully in Hansard what the Minister said and return to this matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 69 to 75 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 76:


The noble Lord said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 21. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

13 Jun 2000 : Column 1625

Clause 20 [Provision of information to consumers]:

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 78:


    Page 14, line 40, at end insert--


("(3A) The disclosure by the Council of information in the exercise of that function does not contravene section (General restrictions on disclosure of information).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 79:


    Page 15, line 5, leave out ("targets") and insert ("obligations imposed by order").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 79, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 263 to 266. The amendments to Clause 20--that is, Amendments Nos. 79 and 82--are simply technical. They change the wording of the cross-references to energy efficiency in that clause to reflect amendments made in another place to the energy efficiency clauses themselves.

The amendments to Clauses 69 and 98 make clearer on the face of the legislation the Government's intention that the Secretary of State will set the overall target for improved energy efficiency and the authority will determine the energy efficiency targets that individual licensees will be obliged to meet so as to achieve this overall target. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 80:


    Page 15, line 7, after ("made") insert ("to the Council or the Authority").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 80 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 81, 83 and 84. I shall be extremely brief. These amendments relate to the publication of statistics on consumer complaints. At present the council must publish statistics on all complaints, including those received directly by companies. We believe that in order to provide a level playing field these amendments are important in that they would limit that obligation to complaints received by the council and the authority. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Clause 20 gives the new consumer council the role of providing information that consumers need in order to make informed decisions about their gas and electricity suppliers. Much of the information is also intended to provide a spur to companies--including monopoly gas transporter and electricity distribution companies--to maintain high levels of performance.

In line with these objectives, Clause 20 places the council under a duty to publish statistical information about complaints made by consumers against such companies. Subsection (2) goes on to state that, for the purposes of that duty, "complaints" include complaints made directly to the companies concerned, as well as those made to the authority and the council.

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As in all consumer legislation, it is expected that complaints will be made first to the company concerned.

Amendments Nos. 80, 81, 83 and 84 seek to restrict the scope of that duty so that it would apply only to complaints made to the authority or the council. It would no longer apply to complaints made to the companies themselves. These amendments would, therefore, seriously reduce the effectiveness of the provisions that Clause 20 puts in place.

Complaints made to the authority or the council alone will not tell the whole story of the day-to-day experience that consumers have of a particular utility company. If a problem arises, most consumers will make a complaint direct to the company concerned--at least, I would. It would be unusual for a consumer to refer to either the authority or the council unless he or she had failed to obtain a satisfactory response from the company against which the complaint had been made.

If we exclude these initial complaints, there is a risk that the pattern of complaints statistics will be distorted, highlighting only those companies foolish enough not to remedy problems when first alerted to them. Companies that receive a high number of consumer complaints but deal with them satisfactorily once the complaints have been made would not figure in these statistics. But surely that would mislead potential customers about the quality of service they offer. It might encourage rogue utility companies to adopt an approach based on a generally low standard of consumer service that improved only when someone complained. Follow-up complaints to the authority or council would be kept to a minimum, while most customers who did not bother to complain would be getting a lower level of service.

I do not think that these amendments will have the effect that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, expects. I hope that she will not press them.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his very full reply to my brief moving of the amendment. We shall read with care what he said in Hansard. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 82:


    Page 15, line 24, leave out ("targets") and insert ("obligations imposed by order").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 79. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 not moved.]

Clause 20, as amended, agreed to.

13 Jun 2000 : Column 1627

Clause 21 [Power to publish advice and information about consumer matters]:

[Amendments Nos. 85 to 93 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 94:


    Page 16, line 16, leave out from first ("section") to end of line and insert ("(General restrictions on disclosure of information)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 [Complaints]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 95:


    Page 16, line 17, leave out from ("section") to ("to") and insert ("32 of the 1986 Act (duty of Council").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 95, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 96, 98, 100 and 101. Although the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is unable to be here, I shall speak also, as far as appropriate, to his Amendments Nos. 97 and 99.

Amendments Nos. 95, 96 and 101 are minor government amendments which correct inaccurate cross-references to sections in the Gas Act 1986. Under the Bill as drafted, there is a prohibition on the council publishing or disclosing details from which a complainant could be identified without the complainant's consent. Amendments Nos. 98 and 100 extend this prohibition to the authority.

Perhaps I may think again about Amendments Nos. 97 and 99. Is it the intention of other Members of the Committee to speak to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin?

Lord Kingsland: No.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In that case, I shall pass over them. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 96:


    Page 16, line 19, leave out ("31") and insert ("32").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 98:


    Page 17, line 24, leave out from beginning to ("without") in line 27 and insert ("No report under subsection (7) or information about a complaint referred to the Council under this section from which the complainant may be identified, shall be published or disclosed by the Council or the Authority in the exercise of any power under the Utilities Act 2000 or this Act,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]

13 Jun 2000 : Column 1628


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